Love…the first and greatest commandment.
Sermon for 4th November at St Mary’s Whitkirk.
“The first commandment is this…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this…you shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Just over a week ago, the ashes of 21 year old Matt Shepard were interred in Washington National Cathedral. His parents had kept his remains at home for 20 years since he was brutally murdered for being gay. They feared any memorial would be defaced by people who still hate Matt just for being different.
On the following day 11 people were shot dead whilst praying at a synagogue in Pittsburg – by someone who hated them just for being Jewish.
A week ago the people of Brazil elected a president who has said he is in favour of torture; who uses the language of hate against women, homosexuals, and especially his socialist political rivals.
On Friday, 7 Coptic Christians were murdered in Egypt by Islamist extremists.
The police watchdog has reported a steady rise in hate crime in Britain in recent years; and warned that Britain leaving the EU may bring a further sharp increase.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…love your neighbour as yourself…there is no other commandment greater than these.” I can’t remember a time when this commandment has seemed so vital.
We discussed this passage in our Pilgrim group recently and were asked to consider what it really means to love God. In a way it sounds simple, obvious…but when we tried to put it into words, we struggled with that question.
So I’d like to share a few lines from a poem that was in the entrance of one of the schools I taught in. You may know it…
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
That poem reminds us that love is something we have to learn. It’s not something that comes from nothing. It’s hard to love other people until we learn to love and accept ourselves. If we fear we’re worth nothing, other people tend to seem like rivals, rather than someone to love. And we learn to love ourselves only by realising that we are loved.
In our Pilgrim group we thought perhaps loving God starts with accepting God’s love for us. As the poem says…if children live with acceptance, with love…they learn to love. It’s only knowing we’re loved unconditionally by God, letting God love us, that teaches us how to love God. As the first letter of John says ‘We love because He first loved us.’ And as we learn to love God, we learn to love what he loves. Accepting God’s love for us teaches us how to love our neighbour.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…love your neighbour as yourself…there is no other commandment greater than these.” There is no greater commandment because only love can teach love.
A world that lives with hostility learns to fight.
A world that lives with hate learns to hate.
A world that lives with love might learn to love.
It seems the loudest voices in our world are the ones sharing hate; especially hatred of anyone who’s different. There are always going to be differences of opinion, genuine worries about say, an influx of migrants, or a culture being lost. But once our leaders, or those with a public platform, move from dialogue to shouting at one another; once they see those who disagree, or are different as enemies…words of hatred become the norm, and are repeated.
And once words of hate are openly shared, normal, accepted…it’s a small step for some to committing acts of violence against those who disagree or are different.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…love your neighbour as yourself.”
Not love as a warm fuzzy glow…but the love that allowed itself to be nailed publicly to a cross to show God’s love to the world. This is the love we Christians are called to share…because our world needs to be taught how to love. It needs love loud enough to be heard above the hate.
Love that speaks up and challenges wherever hatred is shared: on social media, in conversation, in the pub – even as a joke.
Love that refuses to let anyone be labeled, stereotyped, hated, just because they’re different.
Love that, when it finds itself fearing this or that group of people takes the time to learn about them, to get to know them, to see them as children of God.
Love that listens and considers, rather than shouting and condemning.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…love your neighbour as yourself…there is no other commandment greater than these.”
We are commanded, every one of us, to accept that God loves us with a love nothing can destroy. In knowing this love we can learn to love God. In learning to love God we can learn to love all of God’s children however different they are to us. And in making this love seen and heard…we can help our world to learn love instead of hate.
Lord, your Son showed us what love looks like. Help us to find our security in that love which casts out fear…and so bring love into your world. Amen.